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The Ladies’ Dressmaker


The business of a manuta-maker, which now includes almost every article of dress made use of by ladies, except, perhaps, those which belong to the head and feet, it too well known to stand in need of description.

This plate is a representation of a mantua-maker taking the pattern off from a lady by means of a piece of paper, or of cloth. The pattern, if taken in cloth, becomes afterwards the lining of the dress. This business requires, in those who would excel in it, a considerable share of taste but no great capital to carry it on, unless to the act of making is suited the business of furnishing materials.

The mantua-maker’s customers are not always easily pleased: they frequently expect more
from their dress than it is capable of giving.

The mantua-maker must be an expert anatomist; an must, if judiciously chosen, have a name of French termination: she must know how to hide all the defects in the proportions of the body and must be able to mould or shape by the stays, that while she corrects the body she may not interfere with the pleasures of the palate.

It will therefore by readily admitted that the perfection of dress and the art of pleasing the fair sex in this particular cannot be obtained without genius.

The business of a mantua-maker, when conducted upon a large scale and in a fashionable
situation, is very profitable; but the mere work-women do not make gains at all adequate
to their labor; they are frequently obliged to sit up very late hours, and the recompense
for extra work is in general a poor remuneration for the time spent.

The price charged for making dresses cannot be estimated: it varies with the article to
be made; with the reputation of the maker; with her situation in life; and even with the
season of the year.

From “The Ladies’ Dressmaker”, The Book of Trades (London, 1804)

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The Regency Dentist

There was a tooth amiss. Harriet really wished, and had wished some time, to consult a dentist.

Mrs John Knightley was delighted to be of use; any thing of ill health was a recommendation to her — and though not so fond of a dentist as of a Mr Wingfield, she was quite eager to have Harriet under her care. — When it was thus settled on her sister’s side, Emma proposed it to her friend, and found her very persuadable. — Harriet was to go; she was invited for at least a fortnight; she was to be conveyed in Mr Woodhouse’s carriage. — It was was all arranged, it was all completed, and Harriet was safe in Brunswick Square.

A beautiful smile can make a lasting impression and in Jane Austen’s works a “good teeth” go a long way in providing that initial spark. Henry Crawford, Mrs. Croft and Elizabeth Bennet are all said to have good, or at the least, “tolerable” teeth. Was it so uncommon a thing to find that it must be commented upon by those taking that first impression? During the Regency, the answer seems to be yes.

In a time before braces, crowns, whiteners and veneers, teeth were considered a thing to be hidden. Taking their cue from Mona Lisa, lips were kept tightly shut in portraits– to show teeth was thought to show low breeding. A stiff point of view, perhaps, but what better way to hide missing teeth or ill fitting dentures!

In 1787, artist Madame Vigée-Lebrun caused enormous controversy when she unveiled a smiling self-portrait in the Paris Salon… in which she revealed beautifully white teeth. Her critics considered this a shocking and almost revolutionary act. One contemporary roundly condemned it as “an affectation…which shows no precedent amongst the Ancients.”*

The majority of the population was not so blessed and a trip to the dentist was a not uncommon occurance. While visiting the dentist because of a toothache is never a pleasant experience, only consider how much more dreaded such a trip would be without all the modern medical wonders that make it relatively clean and painless to receive a filling or extraction!

In Jane Austen’s day, such a visit for a middle class young lady might include a trip to London, for only there, could one be assured of “quality” dental care. No doubt this visit, during which Jane accompanied three of her nieces to a London Dentist, inspired a similar trip for Harriet Smith, in Emma.

The poor girls and their teeth! I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s, and Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again, and poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the eye teeth, to make room for those in front. When her doom was fixed, Fanny, Lizzy, and I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp and hasty screams.

The little girls’ teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a lover of teeth and money and mischief, to parade about Fanny’s. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth and double it. It was a disagreeable hour.
Jane Austen to Cassandra, Sept. 16, 1813

Although the practice of Dentistry goes back to ancient times, not much developed over the centuries. Dental care was pretty grim prior to modern times. The Dental profession owes a debt of gratitude to a remarkable Frenchman named Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761). Known as the father of modern dentistry, Fauchard collected all that was known in the West up to that time, organized the material and presented it in an epic work, published in 1723: Lel Chirurgien dentiste; ou, traite des dents (The Surgeon-Dentist; or Treatise on Teeth). He was the first to practice dentistry in a scientific manner, practice management techniques for the enhancement of patient comfort, and advocate what today we call dental health.*

At the time of the Regency, oral hygiene was not a well advocated practice. Only simple instruments were available for cleaning the teeth. Toothpicks were common and even fashionable, but toothbrushes, most often frayed sticks for chewing on or hogs hair toothbrushes, were in limited use. Unpalatable whiteners such as burnt bread or charcoal were used along with these, though they must have been of little help. Toothaches and cavities were common.

Unfortunately for the sufferer, tooth extraction was the only quick means of alleviating dental pain at the time. Extraction instruments were known as pelicans and keys. The pelican was a brutal instrument with a pad or bolster, which was placed on the side of the gum below the tooth to be extracted and a beak or claw which engaged the opposite side. A downward twist of the handle tore the tooth out of the mouth. The key was similar, but had a handle similar to that of a corkscrew and enabled the instrument to be used more comfortably from the front of the mouth instead of the side. The 1860s these tools were replaced by forceps, which engaged the tooth more anatomically and extracted with much less damage. Nevertheless naval surgeons still had extraction keys in their kits in the 1880s.

Once a tooth had been extracted, the only solution for filling the gap was donor teeth (usually pulled fresh from a willing accomplice who would rather have cash than teeth) set into the hole where the tooth had been pulled from, or dentures.

Prior to 1850 dentures generally did not fit well. George Washington’s teeth (pictured above), contrary to “common knowledge” were not made of wood. They were made from whalebone, and others from hippopotamus. There were springs attached, making them rather uncomfortable to wear. In prior centuries, teeth were made from a variety of materials including – in addition to whalebone, walrus and hippopotamus tusks – china, ivory, earthenware, tortoise shell, coral and more.**

The Regency era did give rise to many innovations in dental care, including fillings for cavities, which were first developed in the early 1800s. Later variations of filling material, from tin to Gold, had quantities of mercury involved which must have caused more damage to the patient than not. Levi Spear Parmly promoted teeth flossing with a piece of silk thread in 1815. In 1824, a dentist named Peabody was the first person to add soap to toothpaste. Mass-produced toothpaste would not be distributed until Colgate developed a patented formula in 1873. Before that time, homemade teeth whitening recipes could be found in nearly every household book.

More Teeth, Colin Jones Dentistry as an Art by Edward Feinberg, DMD**
A Glasgow Dentist, an Edinburgh Legacy, by Paul Geissler***

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The Baker

Much could not be hoped from the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury; — Mr Perry walking hastily by, Mr William Cox letting himself in at the office-door, Mr Cole’s carriage-horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects she could presume to expect; and when her eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker’s little bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, she knew she had no reason to complain, and was amused enough; quite enough still to stand at the door.

The chief art of the baker lies in making bread, rolls, and biscuits, and in baking various kinds of provisions.

It is not known when this very useful business first became a particular profession. Bakers were a distinct body of people in Rome nearly two hundred years before the Christian era, and it is supposed that they came from Greece. To these were added a number of freemen, who were incorporated into a college, from which neither they nor their children were allowed to withdraw. They held their effects in common, without enjoying the power of parting with them. Each bake house had a patron, who had the superintendancy of it; and one of the patrons had the management of the others, and the care of the college. So respectable were the bakers at Rome, that occasionally one of the body was admitted among the senators.

Even by our own statutes the bakers are declared not to be handicrafts; and in London they are under the particular jurisdiction of the lord mayor and aldermen, who fix the price of bread, and have the power of finding these who do not conform to their rules.

Bread is made of flour mixed and kneaded with yeast, water, and a little salt. It is known in London under two names, the white or wheaten, and the household: these differ only in degrees of purity; and the loaves must be marked with a W or H, or the Baker is liable to suffer a penalty.

The process of bread-making is thus described: –To a peck of meal are added a handful of salt, a pint of yeast, and three quarts of water, cold in summer and hot in winter, and temperate between the two. The whole being kneaded, as is represented in the plate, will rise in about an hour; it is then moulded into loaves, and put into the oven to bake.

The oven takes more than an hour to heat properly, and break about three hours to bake. Most bakers make and sell rools in the morning: these are either common, or French rools: the former differ but little from loaf-bread: the ingredients of the latter are mixed with milk instead of water, and the finest flour is made use of for them. Rolls require only about twenty minutes for baking.

The life of a baker is very laborious; the greater part of his work is done by night: the journeyman is required always to commence his operations about eleven o’clock in the evening, in order to get new bread ready for admitting the rolls in the morning. His wages are, however, but very moderate, seldom amounting to more than ten shillings a week, exclusive of his board.

The price of bread is regulated according to the price of wheat; and bakers are directed in this by the magistrates, whose rules they are bound to follow. By these the peck-loaf of each sort of bread must weight seventeen pounds six ounces avoirdupois weight, and smaller loaves in the same proportion. Every sack of flour is to weigh two hundred and a half and from this there ought to be made, at an average, twenty such peck-loaves, or eighty common quartern-loaves.

If bread were short in its weight only one ounce in thirty six, the baker formerly was liable to be put to the pillory; and for the same offence he may now be fined, at the will of the magistrate, in any sum not less than one shilling, nor more than five shillings, for every ounce wanting; such bread being complained of and weighed in the presence of the magistrate within twenty-four hours after it is baked, because bread loses in weight by keeping.

The process of biscuit-baking, as practiced at the Victualling-office at Deptford, is curious and interesting. The dough, which consists of flour and water only, is worked by a large machine. It is then handed over to a second workman, who slices it with a large knife for the bakers, of whom there are five. The first, or moulder, forms the biscuits two at a time; second, or marker, stamps and throws them to the splitter, who separates the two pieces, and puts them under the hands of the chucker, the man that supplies the oven, whose work of throwing the bread on the peel must be so exact, that he cannot look off for a moment. The fifth, or depositer, receives the biscuits on the peel, and arranges them in the oven. All the men work with the greatest exactness, and are, in truth, like parts of the same machine. The business is to deposit in the oven seventy biscuits in a minute; and this is accomplished with the regularity of a clock, the clacking of the peel operating like the motion of the pendulum. There are 12 ovens at Deptford, and each of them will furnish daily bread for 2040 men.

By referring to the plate, we see the baker represented in the act of kneading his dough the bin upon which he is at work contains the flour: on his right hand is the peel, with which he puts in and takes out the bread: at his back we see the representation of the fire in the oven, and in the front is the pain in which the yeast is fetched daily from the brewhouse; and by the side of the flour-bin on the ground is the wood used to heat the oven.

From The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

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The Straw Hat Maker

The Straw Hat Maker was hard at work here!

The Art of the Straw Hat Maker

Fashion has always had its price tag and in the Regency was no exception. The accessory du jour was, of course, the bonnet and an army of platters and milliners kept the fashionable of the period in a numerous variety of hats and bonnets. Straw was a common medium and worn by men, women and children. Leghorn Bonnets, which you often hear of, were made in Livorno, Italy (the city was known as Leghorn in English) from straw specially treated to become a lovely bleached white.

Here is an excerpt on the craft of a straw hat maker from The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts, printed by Jacob Johnson in 1807.

There are few manufactures in the kingdom in which so little capital is wanted, or the knowledge of the art so soon acquired, as in that of straw platting. One guinea is quite sufficient for the purchase of the machines and materials for employing 100 persons for several months. The straw-hat-maker, represented in the plate, is employed in the making up of hats only, after the straw is braided or platted.

The straw is cut at the joints and the outer covering being removed, it is sorted of equal sizes, and made up into bundles of eight or ten inches in length, and a foot in circumference. They are then to be dipped in water, and shaken a little so as not to retain too much moisture; and then the bundles are to be placed on their edges, in a box which is sufficiently close to prevent the evaporation of smoke. In the middle of the box is an earthen dish containing brimstone broken in small pieces: this is set on fire, and the box covered over and kept in the open air several hours. It will be the business of one person to split and select the straws for 50 others who are braiders. The splitting is done by a small machine made principally of wood. The straws, when split, are termed splints, of which each worker has a certain quantity: on one end is wrapped a linen cloth, and they are held under the arm and drawn out as wanted.

Platters should be taught to use their second fingers and thumbs, instead of the forefingers, which are often required to assist in turning the splints, and very much facilitate the platting; and they should be cautioned against wetting the splints too much. Each platter should have a small linen work-bag,, and a piece of pasteboard to roll the plat round. After five yards have been worked up, it should be wound about a piece of board half a yard wide, fastened at the top with yarn, and kept there several days to form it in a proper shape. Four of these parcels, or a score, is the measurement by which the plat is sold.

A good platter can make three score a week, and a good work will always command a sale both winter and summer. The machines are small; they may be bought for two shillings each, and will last for many years.

When the straw is platted it comes into the hand of the person represented in the plate, who sews it together into hats, bonnets, &c. of various sizes and shapes, according to the prevailing fashions. They are then put on wooden blocks for the purpose of hot-pressing; and to render them of a more delicate white, they are again exposed to sulphur.

Persons who make up these hats will earn half-a-guinea a week; but braiders, or platters, if very expert, will earn much more.


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The Shipwright: Building the Fleet


The Shipwright: Building the Fleet

We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews [George and Edward Knight] went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home.
Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra
Monday, 24 October 1808

A Ship has been defined, a timber building, consisting of various parts and pieces, nailed and pinned together with iron and wood, in such form as to be fit to float, and to be conducted by wind and sails from sea to sea. The word ship is a general name for all large vessels with sails, adapted for navigation on the sea: but by sailors the term is more particularly applied to a vessel furnished with three masts, each of which is composed of a lower-mast, a top-mast, and a top-gallant-mast.

A shipwright is one who is employed in building or repairing such vessels. Ship-building is to this country one of the most important arts; it is studied as a science by the learned, who denominate it naval architecture: for the promotion of this science, a very respectable body of ingenious men have for the last fifteen years associated.

In ship-building three things are necessary to be considered: First, to give the vessel such a form as shall be best adapted for sailing, and for the service for which she is designed: secondly, to unite the several parts into a compact frame; and thirdly, to provide suitable accommodations for the officers and crew, as well as for the cargo, furniture, provisions, guns, and ammunition. The outside figure of a ship include: the bottom, or the hold, which is the part that is under the water when the vessel is laden; and the upper works are called the dead works, which are usually above the water when the ship is laden.

To give a proper shape to the bottom of the ship, it is necessary to consider the service for which she is designed. A Ship O’ War should be able to sail swiftly, and carry her lower tier of guns four or five feet out of the water: amerchant ship ought to be able to contain a large cargo of goods, and to be navigated with few hands; and both should be able to carry sail firmly; to steer well; and to sustain the shocks of the sea without being violently strained.

Ships are built principally with oak timber, which is the stoutest and strongest wood we have, and therefore best fitted both to keep sound under water, and to bear the blows and shocks of the waves, and the terrible strokes of cannon-balls. For this last purpose, it is a peculiar excellence of the oak, That it is not so liable to splinter or shiver as other wood, so that a ball can pass through it without making a large hole. The great use of the oak for the structure of merchant ships, as well as for men of war, is referred to by Mr. Pope:

While by our oaks the precious loads are bourne,
And realms commanded ‘which those trees adorn.

During the construction of a ship, she is supported in the dock, or upon a wharf, by a number of solid blocks of timber placed at equal distances from and parallel to each other; in which situation she is said to be on the stocks.

The first piece of timber laid upon the blocks is generally the keel, which, at one end, is let into the stern-post, and at the other into the stem. If the carcass of a ship be compared to the skeleton of a human body, the keel may be considered as the backbone, and the timbers as the ribs. The stern is the hinder part of the ship, near which are the state-room, cabins, &c. To the stern-post is fixed the iron-work that holds the rudder,which directs the course of the vessel.

The stem is a circular piece of timber in the front; into this the sides of the ship are inserted. The outside of the stem is usually marked with a scale or division of feet, according to its perpendicular height from the keel; the intention of this is to ascertain the draught of water at the fore-part, when the ship is in preparation for a sea voyage.

In the plate the shipwright is represented standing at the stern on a scaffold, and driving in the wedges with his wooden trunnel. The holes are first bored with the auger, and then the wedges drove in; these are afterwards cut off with a saw. At his feet lie his saw, his auger, which is used for boring large holes, his axe, and punches of different sizes.

The caulking of a ship is a very important operation: it consists in driving oakum, or the substance of old ropes un-twisted, and pulled into loose hemp, into the seams of the planks, to prevent the ship’s leaking. It is afterwards covered with hot melted pitch, or rosin, to prevent its rotting. A mixture, used for covering the bottom of ships, is made of one part of tallow, one of brimstone, and three parts of rosin: this is called paying the bottom. The sides are usually payed with tar, turpentine, or rosin. To enable ships to sail well, the outsides in contact with the water are frequently covered with copper.

The masts of ships are made of fir or pine, on account of the straightness and lightness of that wood: the length of the main-mast of an East India ship is about eighty feet. The masts always bear a certain proportion to the breadth of the ship: whatever the breadth of the ship be, multiply that breadth by twelve, and divide the product by five, which gives the length of the main-mast. Thus, a ship which measures thirty feet at the broadest part will have a main-mast seventy. two feet long: the thickness of the mast is estimated by allowing one inch for every three feet in length: accordingly, a mast seventy two feet long must be twenty four inches thick. For the other masts different proportions are to be used. To the masts are attached the yards,sails, and rigging, which receive the wind necessary for navigation.

In a dock yard where ships are built, six or eight men, called quartermen, are frequently entrusted to build a ship, and engage to perform the business for a certain sum, under the inspection of a master builder. These employ other men under them, who,according to their different departments, will earn from fifteen or twenty shillings to two or three pounds per week.

When a ship is finished building it is to be launched, that is, put out of dock. To render the operation of launching easy, the ship when first built is sup- ported by two strong platforms laid with a gradual inclination to the water. Upon the surface of this declivity are placed two corresponding ranges of planks, which compose the base of the frame, called the cradle, to which the ship’s bottom is securely attached. The planes of the cradle and platform are well greased, and then the blocks andwedges, by which the ship was supported, are driven out from under the keel; afterwards the shores, by which she is retained on the stocks, are cut away, and the ship slides do into the water. Ships of the first rate are usually constructed in dry docks, and afterwards floated out by throwing open the floodgates and suffering the tide to enter, as soon as they are finished.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.


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The Jeweller

It appears from history that the profession of a jeweler is of very ancient date; for we read in the Bible that Aaron had a breast-plate set with a variety of precious stones: and in succeeding ages there is frequent mention of rings and other ornaments being made of gold and set with stones.  Hence the name jeweller, one who sets jewels, or precious stones, is properly derived. There is scarcely a nation in the world who have not employed jewellers of some kind or other.  When captain Cook visited the South Sea islands, where, perhaps, no civilized being had been before, they found the natives with their ears, noses, and arms, ornamented with pearls, gold, shells, and curious teeth of fish, in a fanciful manner.

Civilized countries have greatly improved the art of jewellery.  The French for lightness and elegance of design have surpassed their neighbours; but the English jewellers, for excellence of workmanship, have been, and still are, superior to every other nation.  The name jeweller is now commonly applied to all who set stones, whether real or artificial; but, properly speaking, it belongs only to those who set diamonds and other precious gems.  According to the general application of the term, jewellers make rings of all sorts in gold, lockets, bracelets, broaches, ornaments for the head, earrings, necklaces, and a great variety of trinkets composed of diamonds, pearls, or other stones.

The DIAMOND was called by the antients adamant: as a precious stone, it holds the first rank, in value, hardness, and lustre and weight, of all gems. The goodness of diamonds consists in their water, or colour, lustre and weight. The most perfect colour is the white. The defects in diamonds are veins, flaws, specks of red and black sand, and a blueish or yellowish cast.

In Europe, lapidaries examine the goodness of their diamonds by daylight, but in the Indies they do it by night: for this purpose a hole is made in the wall, where a lamp is placed, with a thick wick, by the light of which they judge of the goodness of the stone.

Diamonds are found in the East Indies, principally in the kingdoms of Golconda, Visapour, Bengal, and the island of Borneo. They are obtained from mines and rivers.  As the diamond is the hardest of all precious stones, it can only be cut and ground by itself and its own substance.  To bring diamonds to that degree of perfection which augments their price so considerably, the workmen rub several against each other; and the powder thus rubbed off the stones, and received in a little box for the purpose, serves to grind and polish others.

The PEARL is a hard, white, smooth, shining body, found in shellfish resembling an oyster, and is ranked among the gems.  The perfection of pearls, whatever be their shape, consists chiefly in the lustre and clearness of their colour, which jewellers call their water. Those which are white are the most esteemed in Europe; while many Indians and the Arabs prefer the yellow: some are of a lead colour; some border on the black, and some are quite black. The oriental pearls are the finest, on account of their largeness, colour, and beauty, being generally of a beautiful silver white: those found in the western hemisphere are more of a milk-white.

In Europe pearls and diamonds are sold by carat weight, the carat being equal to four grains; but in Asia, the weights made use of are different in different states.

In the print we have a man at work, who will represent either a jeweller, or a small worker in silver; one who makes rings, perfume-boxes, &c.  The board at which he works is adapted also for a second workman.  The leathern skins fastened to the board are to catch the filings and small pieces of precious metals, which would otherwise be liable to fall on the ground. The tools on the board, and in the front under the window, are chiefly files of various kinds, and drills; beside which there is a small hammer, a pair of pliers, and, on a little block of wood, a small crucible. On his left hand above the board is a drill bow: this is a flexible instrument, consisting of a piece of steel, to the ends of which is fastened a cat-gut: the cat-gut is twisted round one of the drills which stand before the man, and then it is fitted for his business.

Behind him is fixed the drawing-bench, on which he draws out his wire to any degree of fineness. The method of drawing wire from gold or other metals is this: The metal is first made into a cylindric form; when it is drawn through holes of several irons, each smaller than the other, till it be as fine as it is wanted, sometimes much smaller than a hair.  Every new hole lessens its diameter; but it gains in length what it loses in thickness: a single ounce is frequently drawn to a length of several thousand feet.

In the front of the plate is represented a German stove, which is rarely used for any other purpose than that of heating the shop: for jewellers cannot work in winter, unless the temperature of the shop be pretty high.  At the top of the stove is a crucible, and on the floor is another: these are useful for many purposes; they are not however heated in the stove, but in a forge, which is an essential article in a jeweller’s shop, though not exhibited in the plate.

Another very material tool found in every jeweller’s work-room is the anvil and block.  A flatting-mill is also wanted, and indeed cannot be dispensed with where the business is considerable. The flatting-mill consists of two perfectly round and very highly polished rollers, formed internally of iron, and welded over with a plate of refined steel: the circumferences of these rollers nearly touch each other; they are both turned with one handle. The lowermost roller is about ten inches in diameter, and the upper one is much smaller. The wire that is to be flattened, unwinding from a bobbin, and passing through a narrow slit in an upright piece of wood, called a ketch, is directed by a small conical hole in a piece of iron, called a guide, to any particular width of the rollers; some of which, by means of this contrivance, are capable of receiving forty threads.  After the wire is flatted, it is again wound on a bobbin, which is turned by a wheel, fixed on the axis of one of the rolls, and so managed that the motion of the bobbin just keeps pace with that of the rolls.

Besides those which are already mentioned, jewellers require a great variety of other tools; such as gravers, scorpers, spit-stickers, knife-tools, straining-weights, brass-stamps, lamp and blow-pipe, ring-sizes, spring-tongs, piercing-saws, boiling-pans, shears, &c. &c.

The trade of a jeweller has always been considerable in London; but, like many others, it is very much affected by a war, and at this moment it is exceedingly flat.  During the American war, thousands of that business were almost in a starving condition: those only who are capable of turning their genius to other mechanical pursuits are likely to obtain employment at such times.

Some jewellers will earn as journeymen four guineas a week; but the general run of wages is about 28 or 80 shillings.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

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The Type-Founder

The first part of the type-founder’s business is tot prepare the medal, which is a composition of lead and regulus of antimony, melted together in the furnace. In large foundries this metal is cast into bars of twenty pounds each, which are delivered to the workmen as occasions may require; this is a laborious and unwholesome part of the business, owing to the fumes which are thrown off. Fifteen hundred weight of this metal is cast in a day, and the founders usually cast as much at one casting as will last six months. We now come to the letter-cutter; that is, to him who cuts the moulds in which the letters are cast; and he must be provided with vices, hammers, files, gravers, and gauges of various kinds. He then prepares steel punches, on the face of which he draws or marks the exact shape of the letter, and with pointed gravers and sculpters he digs out the steel between the strokes or marks which he made on the face of the punch, leaving the marks standing. Having shaped the inside strokes of the letter, he deepens the hollows with the same tools; for, if a letter be not deep in proportion to its width, it will, when used at press, print black, and be good for nothing. He then works the outside with files till it is fit for the matrice.

A matrice is a piece of brass or copper about an inch and half long, and thick in proportion to the size of the letter it is to contain. In this metal is sunk the face of the letter intended to be cast, by striking the letter punch. After this the sides and face of the matrice must be cleared, with files, of all bunchings made by sinking the punch.

The Type-FounderWhen the metal and other things are properly prepared, the matrice is fastened to the end of the mould, which the caster holds in his left hand, while he pours the metal in with his right; by a sudden jerk of the hand the metal runs into the cavity of the matrice and takes the figure or impression. The mould consists of an under and an upper half, of which the latter is taken off as soon as the letter is cast, and the caster throws the letter upon a sheet of paper, laid for the purpose on a bench or table, and he is then ready to cast another letter as before.

When the casters have made a certain number of types, which are made much longer than they are wanted, boys come and break away the jets, or extra lengths from the types; the jets they cast into the pot, and the types are carried to the man who is represented sitting at his work in the plate, who polishes their broad sides. This is a very dexterous operation; for the man, in turning up the types, does it so quickly, by a mere touch of the fingers of the left hand, as not to require the least perceptible intermission in the motion of the right hand upon the stone.

The caster represented in the plate is seen in the act of pouring the metal into the mould. He takes it up with a small ladle from the pan, which is constantly kept over the fire in a sort of stove under the brick-work. The iron plate on the right hand of the caster is to defend him from the heat of the fire, and the screen between the two workmen is to prevent the man sitting from being injured by the metal, which is apt to fly about by the operation of casting. On the table near the newly cast types, are several blocks of the metal, with which the caster replenishes his pan as he makes the letters.

A type-founder will cast upwards of 5000 letters in a day; and the perfection of letters thus cast, consists in their being all strait and square; of the same height, and evenly lined, without sloping one way or the other.

What is called a fount or font of letter, is a quantity of each kind cast by the letter-founder and properly sorted. A complete font includes, besides the running letter, all the single letters, double letters, points, commas, lines, borders, head and tail pieces, and numerical characters. Letter-founders have a kind of list by which they regulate their founts: this is absolutely necessary, as some letters are much more frequently used than others, of course the cells containing these should be better stored than those of the letters which do not so often recur. Thus a fount does not contain an equal number of a and b, or of e and z. In a fount containing a hundred thousand characters, the a should have five thousand, the c three thousand, the e eleven thousand, the isix thousand, and the other letters in proportion.

Printers order their founts either by the hundred weight or by the sheet. If they order a fount of five hundred they mean that the whole shall weigh about 600 lb.; but if they demand a fount of ten sheets, it is understood, that with this fount they shall be able to compose ten sheets, or twenty forms, without being obliged to distribute. The founder reckons 120 lb. to a sheet, but this varies with the nature of the letter.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

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The Mail Guard

nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds

Starting in 1784, letters sent by Royal Mail traveled by Mail Coach. These were special stagecoaches that carried few or no passengers and were specially guarded. Averaging a speed of eleven miles an hour, they were a great deal faster than other coaches.

The Mail guard wore the Royal livery consisting of a scarlet coat trimmed with gold braid. He was also provided with a blunderbuss, a clock kept in a leather pouch, a horse pistol, and a horn with which to warn other road users as well as to announce the arrival and departure of the coach. The duties of the mail guard, an employee of the post office, were the delivery and safety of the mail and keeping the coachman on time. Every coach carried a locked timepiece and the guard had to transfer the time recorded by that on to a time-bill. The Royal Mail guard had to write in an explanation for any delay witnessed by the Post-master.

In an attempt to avoid bribery and corruption, the Royal Mail paid their guards well, 10s-6d a week (a very large sum then). The Mail guard was also provided with a new hat and scarlet coat with gold braid on every year. They also gave them a good pension when they retired. In addition to this, there were the tips. “The driver and the guard are to be paid at the end of every stage of about twenty miles. This custom [came to have almost] the force of law; and the perquisite is generally demanded as a matter of right. The usual donation, for such it is, is six pence to each, but a shilling and even more is often given, and never refused.*” A silver shilling per passenger was considered normal for a long journey.

The post horn was the recognized signal horn used by all the guards on the Royal Mail coaches. The standard horn issued by the post office was made of tin and three feet long. Hence it was colloquially known as the yard of tin. Guards, however, rather prided themselves on their hornblowing, so they usually provided themselves with instruments made of copper or brass which were more melodious in tone. The coach horn had a peculiar ring to the notes due to the length and shape of the instrument.

The mail coaches traveled the toll roads free of charge so the post horn call was sounded to alert tollgate keepers to immediately open the gate under the pain of a 40 shilling fine should they fail. Some other calls were: clear the road, coming by, pulling up, turning right, and turning left.

The coach horn call alerted the postmasters at pick up sites to have the mail bag ready to toss to the guard. The sounding of the coach horn call also warned ostlers to prepare a fresh team to be hitched to the Royal Mail coach.

Palmer’s idea of using soldiers as guards was not feasible, but the guards employed by the post office served the same purpose. They were good shots, and honorably watched over the mail. Most guards were retired soldiers. With the coming of the mail coach highway robbery of the mails practically ceased.

*From Joshua White’s Letters on England, written in 1810.

Reprinted with persmission Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a historical tour through Regency London!

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